Working Titles: The Drum Store/Actual Drunk Indian/White Girl’s Guilt/Dreams vs. Reality (I can’t decide)

It’s all very picturesque, visiting the pueblo. We tromp muddy paths to squat buildings, one stacked upon the next, wooden ladders to different levels knitting the various floors together. Piñon wood smoke curls above beehive-shaped outdoor ovens, ready to bake bread. Sunshine, icicles and sparkling snow, blood red dirt and adobe houses, with doors painted to match the sky. It’s a nice color scheme.

A creek runs through the center of the pueblo, with signs proclaiming and protecting the single water source for the tribe. People kneel on icy banks, washing hands, pots and pans, getting a drink, using their frigid fresh water. Dogs approach us timidly, wanting food yet fearful of a swift kick. We had nothing to give them but love, for which they were still grateful.

So it was with a ragged band of rez mutts that we explored and approached the first adobe, ducking inside the low door to stand beside the fireplace, thawing our hands. Our dogs came in too, snuffing the packed-earth floor for crumbs.

A drum shop.

I looked around at the drums, made of wood and skin. Tiny double-ended branch-drums you hold in one hand to huge, ominous, table-sized ceremonial drums, made from entire tree trunks that sounded like thunder. Their shapes were dictated by the host tree’s original forms, curvy, gnarled, angular. Each had a different musical tone as I cautiously, quietly tapped every one. They were magnificent.

“Gerroutah here, damn dog,” slurred a voice from the back. An elderly man scuffed into the small store. He had a headband clinging to long grey hair and milky eyes in a rumpled brown face. He waved a gnarled hand generally to the room.

“I made these drums.”

I smiled, excited to indulge this assuredly Wise Old Artisan. “It must be lovely to make something so beautiful.”

“Well I don’t make nothin else and I like it like hell when they sell. You want to buy one?”

I smelled his words more than heard them. Sweat, stale booze and cigarettes stung my nose and burned my eyes from across the room. And I recoiled from the stench, from his crass, desperate salesman pitch, from just how… unromantic this had become. No way! I was already coasting on credit card fumes this trip. No way could I afford a $300 drum, no way did I want to give this foul man with a ruinous vibe my plastic money, no matter how pretty the drums were. I stammered a lame reply.

“Oh. I, um… well. Ah.”

“Huh.” He pitched past me, mild interest immediately replaced by contempt, toward the front of the shop. Then he tried to grope my friend.

“Yer so pretty. Where you from darlin?”

I helped extract her from his crooked arms as we hustled out the door. This joker was seriously harshing our collective mellow. Come on, dogs!

I guess he used up all his charm on making those drums.